Katarina and the Yalta Agreement
. . . . .
Christopher who hailed from New Orleans was a street fighter, and he thrived on fighting. He didn’t care who it was, he’d fight him. He never lost a fight. For some reason Whittington liked to pal around with him. “But he was really a dangerous mother to go on liberty with,” Whittington admitted after their big fight. Christopher hated the US Navy, and he loved Tsingtao beer. The two didn’t mix. When he drank he became belligerent and terribly antagonistic. He’d then look for the biggest sailor in the room and begin to crowd him a little. As soon as the sailor became aware of Christopher’s presence and looked him in the eye, Christopher would always shout, “What the hell are you looking at, shithead?” After that, it was every man for himself.
That was the night they destroyed the Camay Club.
But there was one fight in Tsingtao that no one can ever forget. It will go down in history books, and it wasn’t even the main event at the championship China-South Pacific Area Boxing Match. It was another match.
The championship fight went on as planned. The US Navy from the Pacific Fleet pitted their top boxers against the top boxers in the China Marines, and winners in each category would go to Guam for the South Pacific championship fights. Most of these top contenders had already made names for themselves. The scuttlebutt was that there were scouts from the World Boxing Commission who were ready to sign up the winners when they got out, and both press reporters and radio announcers were on hand to record the moments. Roy Heinecke from Stars & Stripes came all the way from Japan to cover the event.
But there was one match that our guys and the sailors from the Seventh Fleet wanted to see more than all others. The match we had in mind was between two men listed at the bottom of the program. But for us, it was the main event.
The man the Marines wanted to see win, and betted on, was Herbert Jones. The Seventh Fleet put up a seaman named Frenchy. Herbert had faithfully served his time in the Tsingtao brig, where l first met him, and ever since he got out he had followed a straight and narrow, and above all, a clean path. He gave up his boozing and trained at the gym hours every day. We used to go watch him train. No one wanted to spar with him, and more often than once he knocked the heavy punching bag right of its chain and swivel with a couple solid blows. We were all betting on him. We were convinced he could beat any Swabbie in the Navy.
But Seaman Frenchy was no pushover. There was no doubt about it, he was a mean bastard. He beat every sailor on every ship in the Seventh Fleet, and they said he could have beat everyone in the entire US Navy and some thought the British navy as well. He really was a brute, and when you saw him you did a double take. He looked very much like the black-bearded sailor in the Popeye comic strip. We saw him around town a couple of times when the fleet was in, and he was always surrounded by a dozen of his henchmen, like one of those movie stars you saw on a Movie Tone newsreel.
The first time the name Herbert Jones was mentioned to Frenchy, that a Marine by that name wanted to fight him, he laughed until his sides hurt. “Bring him on,” he shouted. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, to put the two unknown men on the program; but by pulling a few strings, we finally succeeded. The matches were set, the programs were printed up and distributed, and then the match was cancelled. Lt. Brandmire announced that the match was illegal.
He read in the books that any Marine or sailor who served brig time for a Summary offense could not participate in any boxing match for a period of one year after completion of the sentence. Herbert had only been discharged from the brig nine months before.
No amount of pleading could make Lt. Brandmire change his mind, and probably it wouldn’t have done any good if he had. It had been entered in the book and even the CO could not change the ruling. The Rocks and Shoals are black and white and there are no grays between. Herbert Jones and Seaman French could not fight.
But it was not over.
The championship matches lasted three days, and on the night of the final day, we arranged for the Jones-Frenchy fight. But it was not staged in any auditorium, and there were no timekeepers, seats or bright lights. Standing room only. The fight was in the wide-open street in front of the Prime Club.
There was no law saying the men couldn’t fight, and there was little the MPs and SPs could do to stop it anyway. The rules were simple: no gloves and a knockdown was the end of a round. When a fighter could no longer get to his feet, the other fighter was the winner. A large circle was formed and the crowd was soon boisterous, shouting for the fight to begin. They wanted blood. Bets were being made and fists full of money passed hands back and forth. I sat, along with my buddies, on the railing at the Prime Club. We had the best view anyone could have had.
We could see from our vantage point both men sweating profusely. They had stripped down to their waists and circled one another clenching their fists. The crowd cheered, and soon the cheers became chants-“Fight! Fight! Fight.” They were gladiators in the ring, and when they looked up at the mob of blood crazed spectators, you wondered if the spectators would give thumbs down like the Romans did in their time. No one really cared who won, just so there was violence and blood. The two men raised their hands, and the crowd went wild. The chanting became louder.
Then the strangest thing happened. The two men approached each other, bent over in kind of a huddle, and with lowered headed began conferring with each other. Were they setting their own rules?
Presently they stood up, and Herbert motioned for silence. The crowd became deathly still. “You will have your fight,” he shouted for all to hear. “You will have your fight but you will have to wait for the results.” At that he and Frenchy pushed through the crowd and headed towards a darkened alley next to the Prime Club. A couple of spectators, sailors and Chinese, attempted to follow them, but the two men turned on them and they quickly withdrew. Herbert Jones and Seaman Frenchy disappeared into the darkness.
Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, still not one nor the other man appeared. Which one would it be? We kept peering into the darkness down the alleyway, wondering. We even had thoughts that they might have killed each other. Perhaps one of us should go and investigate.
There was no need. In the deep abyss of the alley we could see a shadow emerge, ever so faint at first. Then it became clearer, and clearer. It was not one shadow, but two. The two men came walking out of the darkness, side by side. They were scuffed up, their faces marked and bruised. Their hands were bloodied and their trousers covered with dust. The crowd grew silent. With all eyes upon them, Herbert slowly raised his right hand; his fist was closed. The victory was his, and we were all about to shout when Frenchy raised his right hand. His fist too was closed. They both held their hands high, both with closed fists in victory, and like two longtime buddies, shoulder to shoulder, they marched into the Prime Club and up to the bar, and when the crowed followed them, they made their announcement. “None of you will never know,” Frenchy said, and Herbert Jones vouched for him. No, we never did know who won that fight, but those who were there will never forget it either.
Lt. Brandmire had his day. Ours was coming. We combat Marines had learned the hard way that in battle, officers must not wear side arms nor carry binoculars, both of which would identify their command function and make them prime targets for the enemy. The Marines under Lt. Brandmire’s command presented him with two gifts of appreciation: a brand new pair of binoculars they bought at the PX and a very fine, handmade leather holster for his .45. “So you look sharp when you lead a patrol,” they said, and they thanked him. He was pleased and proud that his men appreciated him.
The guys were fortunate they didn’t have to take a slow troopship back to the States. Times were changing. They shipped out aboard C-47s to Cherry Point Air Station in California. Hecklinger ended up in sickbay and missed the flights. As for me, they figured with my speaking Chinese I might be of some use and held back on my orders. Hecklinger and I decided to celebrate. I knew he would be heading out to see his girl but we could have a few beers first at the slopchute at the EM Club. When we went into the office to get our liberty passes, the duty clerk announced that I had a visitor at the main gate waiting to see me. He didn’t know who it was, except to say it was a woman, and the guards would not let her come in. Hecklinger told me to go ahead. A dozen thoughts ran through my mind as I rushed to the main gate. It had to be Ming-Lee. Who else would come to the compound to see me? I didn’t walk the last hundred yards; I floated.
Sentries stood at the gate checking passes and saluting officers in their vehicles as they passed. Whoever it was had to be inside the guard shack waiting. I opened the door, and I had the shock of my life. My eyes were deceiving me. Sitting on a wooden bench was Katarina. She saw me and jumped to her feet. Her eyes filled with tears. Before I could say a word she said, “I came to say good bye.”
“You already said good bye, once,” I replied.
“Come, where can we go?” she said. “I have to tell you the good news.”
We went to a small White Russian cafe down from the university and took seats at a small table. Katarina did look wonderful, and it took all my effort to not be taken in by her again. She reached out and placed her hand on my arm. She explained she was on her way to Shanghai and had a steamer to catch that night. She admitted she felt bad about Peking.
“You are returning to your family then,” I said.
“Not exactly,” she said. “I’m going back to Russia.”
“Back to Russia!” I exclaimed. “You can do that?”
“Yes, it’s okay now,” she replied. “The Russians are allowing White Russians. It’s part of the Yalta Agreement made between your President Roosevelt and Stalin. It has just been made public. American ships are providing transportation for us from Shanghai to Vladivostok.”
Katarina was very happy. At last she had a homeland to return to. She asked about Ming-Lee and I explained I had not seen her since Peking, and that Ming-Lee was in the lobby when she, Katarina, was in my room. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “You do love her, don’t you?” I didn’t reply. What was the use?
We finished our drinks and I wished her luck and saw her to a rickshaw out in the street. I didn’t think I would ever see her again.